Do Video Game Developers Have No Regards For Children?

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My son and I are gripping our controllers, leading our small group of Avengers to victory. But wait, even though the screen is split, the onscreen action blinds us both to our positions in-game. Lego Marvel’s Avengers fails to provide a visual indicator to note where ones character is on screen. There is no “player one” or “player two” designation. The game’s camera pulls too far out of the action for the player to be able to follow their hero.

I am frustrated; my six year old son, even more so.

Lego AvengersThe Lego games have always frustrated me. There is so much potential with the Lego properties, squandered in the name of shoddy controls and split screen mode. What frustrates me more, as with Disney Infinity, is that developers market this half-assed game design to children. We love playing videogames together. My son is able to hold his own in Guacamelee. His skills increase every time we sit down and play. But Lego games block our fun together.

I would like to say that videogame developers hate children. But that isn’t true. Videogame developers lack a certain awareness of how kids play.

Kids games need to:

  • Provide clear visual cues
  • Make it easy for players to find themselves: a simple portrait of a superhero, in the top right corner of the screen, doesn’t cut it. For a great example, check out Diablo 3.
  • Offer different camera distance so that players can see the action
  • Give players control over the environment that engages motor-skill and muscle-memory

My son and I will probably continue to play Lego Marvel’s Avengers. I just wish it was more finely-tuned to my son’s early skill levels.

Bad Parenting: The Diablo Debacle

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As a dad, I struggle with trying to discern what types of videogames are appropriate for my son and I to play. I have to remind myself that he is only six years old. Despite being a competent player, he isn’t one of my friends, someone who can make content decisions for himself. The little guy is my son, so I have to make media choices for him.

diablo-IIISometime last year, I made a bad decision–more like a ton, but this is just one example. Despite an all knowing parental voice telling me that playing Diablo 3 with my son was not a good idea, I proceeded forward. He loved the game! We found ourselves criss-crossing the map hunting down bad guys. Monsters that would burst, giving birth to electric eel-like monsters. All writhing in pixelated bloody glory. We were having fun. I wasn’t being a good dad.

I ended up having to confess to my son that I had been wrong. Diablo 3 was not a game that him and I needed to be playing together. I apologized. He cried. He wanted to battle monsters with his daddy. I assured him that there were plenty of other games that we could play together. He asked when he might be able to play Diablo 3. I told him that he could play when he was able to understand exactly what is going on in the game.

This was one of those parental failure/redemption moments. I want to encourage other dads and moms out there to consider what types of games they are playing with their children.

  • Is the content appropriate?
  • Does the game’s worldview run contrary to beliefs one is trying to instill?
  • Are you just playing the game because you want to play it, ignoring the voice in your head telling you that you need to stop?

Being a parent that is open, honest, and willing to admit mistakes allows your child to see you as real. That is a win-win in my book. Picking age appropriate media, another win.